Published on 06/16/01

New Methods Keep Georgia Peaches Safe

Bobby Lane's financial lifeline hangs on his reputation, which moves along with each of the 1.6 billion peaches he sells. "We've had chain stores come in and do pesticide reports on our peaches," Lane says.

Each time, his fruit gets peachy test results. Pesticide residues are often found to be 500 to 1,000 times lower than Environmental Protection Agency allows. And EPA's allowable levels are already far below anything that might pose a health risk to humans. Sophisticated scientific tests sometimes can't detect any pesticide on Lane's peaches.

For two years, agricultural scientists and peach growers have tried to produce a pesticide-free peach for consumers. And they've come close.

"We could make an adjustment here or there and improve it even more," said Kathy Taylor, an Extension Service horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Chemicals Long Gone at Purchase

Growers still need pesticides to control insects and diseases in the fields. But they remove lingering chemicals long before you buy the peaches.

The scientists found that the peach fuzz holds a minute amount of pesticide residue. So if packers use a machine that takes the fuzz off, it removes 65 percent of that tiny amount.

Give peaches a 45-minute bath in chlorinated water, and the scientists found that the minuscule residue that remains is reduced by another 35 percent.

The peach industry is already more than complying with government standards. So why make further changes?

A Fairly Fickle Group

"The EPA can be a fairly fickle group," Taylor said. "We want to make certain we're ahead of the curve, that we've lowered it as much as possible, so when they decide it needs to be even lower, we're ready."

Even though fresh Georgia peaches look the same as they always have, they don't have nearly the amount of pesticides along for the ride. That helps keep Bobby Lane and other Georgia peach growers in business.

The scientists haven't finished their research. They plan to wash the fuzz-removing equipment with a detergent to cut the very little pesticide residue that might slip by. They want to make Georgia's sweet, nutritious peaches even safer.

If you want to eat a peach right off the tree or one bought at a roadside stand, Taylor recommends washing it before you eat it. If you're really concerned and want to make sure it's perfectly safe, simply scrub off the fuzz with a soft brush.